Establishing paternity affords children born outside of marriage the same legal rights those born to married parents. Since children are entitled to know and interact meaningfully with both parents. Children who have substantial relationships with both parents are at a decided advantage for positive outcomes in life versus those who are in one parent homes, usually with the mother. However, if you were searching the internet for information about a father establishing paternity, sadly and unsurprisingly – the highlights seem to be on the “child support” and only secondarily (if at all) is the establishment and enforcement child custody for fathers as prominently informative.  Let’s try to change that.

The short- and long-term benefits to children with fathers actively involved in their lives are numerous:

  • Significantly lower suicide risk.
  • Significantly lower risk behavioral disorders.
  • Significantly lower risk of criminal activity in youth and adulthood.
  • Significantly lower risk of teen pregnancy.
  • Significantly lower risk of substance abuse issues.
  • Significantly lower risk of dropping out of school.
  • Significantly lower risk of being abused.
  • Significantly lower risk of being killed.

Despite what you may hear from naysayers, these realities cannot be overlooked.  While family court may still continue to generally give fathers short-shrift when it comes to granting even equal child custody or parenting time, the above mentioned realities seem to indicate that a shift back towards shared parenting is necessary.  It’s because shared parenting works.

Beyond that come the other important benefits to children, including establishment of child support.  They may be entitled to other benefits, namely social security benefits, veterans benefits and inheritance benefits.  Of particular importance is knowing the family’s entire medical history.  Additionally, knowledge of one’s cultural history and ancestry is important.

A father can take action to establish paternity at any time.  It’s important to be aware that depending upon the circumstances and the timing, obtaining significant custodial time is a decidedly uphill battle, but one worth fighting if the other parent chooses to make it so.  One thing that will not be all that difficult – establishing the highest possible child support order and the enforcement thereof.

Rules and procedures vary from state-to-state, but the basics are as follows:

  • Consult an attorney.
  • Visit your local court house and inquire about the appropriate forms and the process by which you can make a motion to establish paternity and prepare to petition for meaningful child custody.
  • If the child’s mother is on any public assistance, notify the appropriate welfare office with your already established documentation.  They are likely to help get you pointed in the right direction for establishment of paternity, if only to get mom off of the welfare rolls and financial responsibility for the child(ren) transferred to you.
  • File a petition to establish joint legal custody and joint physical custody of the child in family court.  Even if paternity has not yet been established, this may set the wheels in motion and the court may order paternity testing to establish the veracity of your claim.

This will not be an easy process no matter what anyone may tell you.  Further, the family court will likely put the bulk of the emphasis on the financial end of things by imposing a child support order and all of the associated enforcement activities for noncompliance.  The will be far less concerned about establishing shared parenting and less concerned (no matter the child custody order) with enforcement of parenting time.

A substantial further caveat, if your child is born of the relationship between you and a married woman, the circumstances in many states are significantly more difficult.  Many states recognize and enforce a common law that automatically recognizes the husband as the biological father, even in the face of paternity testing showing otherwise! So, be prepared for an even more lengthy and more costly process than would otherwise be the case.

In a future article, we’ll talk about Putative Father Registries.